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The challenge of digital access for all

Digital tools have become essential in our daily lives, whether at school, at work or even in the use of public services. But surprisingly, in Europe, the use of the Internet and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) remains very heterogeneous and uneven.

For example, while in Finland 92% of households have Internet access at home, only 64% of Bulgarian households have it. Also, 15% of Europeans had never used the Internet in 2017!
These figures show the real disparities within the European Union, sometimes forgotten or underestimated.
Has access to digital technology not become a factor of social exclusion?  And above all, how do European funding programmes help to rebalance the balance?

1) Supporting projects of common interest and developing European telecommunications infrastructure: the CEF-T programme

Throughout the current programming period (2014-2020), the European Commission has acted and co-financed more than 350 projects (including 29 in France) under the Mechanism for Interconnection in Europe – Telecommunication Networks (CEF-T) to stimulate and support digital service infrastructures deployment in the territory.

Since February 2019, seven new calls for proposals have been opened:
Europeana – (budget of €2 million) to support digital access, visibility and use of European cultural heritage;
eTranslation – (budget of €4 million) to support the collection of linguistic tools and resources;
eIdentification and eSignature – (budget of €5 million), aimed at strengthening the use of eIdentification and eSignature
eDelivery – (budget of €1 million) to promote the adoption and accelerate the use of eDelivery technical specifications
eInvoicing – (budget of €6.2 million) to support the adoption of compliant electronic invoicing solutions by public entities;
EU student eCard – (budget of €1 million) to support cross-border student mobility through solutions based on eIDAS eID;
eArchiving – (budget of €2.1 million) to adopt electronic archiving solutions on a broad and cross-border basis.

Companies, public bodies and international organisations can benefit between 75% and 100% of co-financing for the implementation of their projects. Project leaders are invited to apply before 14 May 2019.

2) Improving access, use and quality of ICTs: an ERDF priority

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is also tackling digital technology. In France, the budget allocated to this axis is €1,032 million. More specifically, in Ile-de-France, the budget for the “diversifying and improving ICT applications” axis amounts to €23,288,968. As of 3rd April, there remained €100,526,667 to be allocated to innovative projects.

If we look at the need for digital skills in school, professional and even social life, the European Social Fund (ESF) can also support social reintegration projects, by co-financing projects to support and learn new skills, or projects to anticipate technological change.

As soon as the new programming, 2021-2027, is completed, and in order to confirm this dynamic, a new program will be launched. With a budget of nearly €9.2 million (still under negotiation), “Digital Europe” will aim to meet the growing challenges of digital technology. In the era of the digitalisation of public services, education 2.0, the Internet of Things, this new tool could enable many innovative projects to come to fruition!

Fanny Robert


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